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Technical efficiency not enough for children

Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) urges Prime Minister Bill English not to trifle with Working for Families (WFF), but to deliver meaningful change for those who most need it in his promised family package.

Currently, WFF is far too complex and has been undermined through both failure of policy to index it properly, and by deliberate cuts that reduce its worth over time. Furthermore, it unfairly excludes many low-income families from a very much needed payment worth at least $72.50 a week.

English agreed in an interview on Q&A that WFF was indeed in need of an overhaul. The problem he identified is that families can easily be overpaid, if they earn more than they anticipated, or don’t qualify for part of it in certain weeks because they don’t meet the fixed hours of work requirement. This can mean an unexpected and unwelcome bill at the end of the year.

The Prime Minister indicated that he is looking to solve this problem with ‘real-time’ adjustments by investing in the technology and administration to pay variable amounts to the caregiver as family circumstances change, rather than addressing the very real inadequacies of the system itself.

“Just making bad policy more efficient will not solve child poverty,” says Associate Professor Susan St John, CPAG economics and spokesperson.

“From its introduction, WFF was badly designed and has failed to make any real impact in terms of alleviating poverty among New Zealand’s worst-off children. Now even low-income, full-time working families are being squeezed and more are needing food banks to survive.” 

CPAG says that WFF can and must be fixed. Fixing Working for Families means giving the full package to all low-income families, properly indexing it, and retracting the cuts that were set in motion from 2012.

“Fixing WFF requires spending around $1.2 billion - but it would be a highly meaningful investment in our children,” says St John.